Our Doubts by Kevin Park
While growing up Roman Catholic I remember being entirely unimpressed with the apostle Thomas. He seemed like such a coward and backslider. I remember in Roman Catholic schools it was open season every time his name was mentioned. He was a pinnacle cautionary tale for those who esteem themselves as Christ followers. Here he had heard the good news, and yet he doubted. I mean Peter doubted too we admitted, but that was before the resurrection we ‘theologized’. There seemed to be no place for doubts on the other side of Calvary once you got to see Jesus.
Yet with a deeper reading of scripture, we learn a lot more about doubt than just a surface level reading provides. For instance, just 10 verses before scripture tells us that Thomas gets to touch Christ, we have Jesus’s encounter with Mary Magdalene in the garden. She is told not to “cling to him”. The King James Version translates it even more abruptly, ‘Touch me not!’ Commentaries on the book of John such as D.A. Carson’s and Leon Morris’s point out that this verse becomes one of the hardest verses in all of John to understand because of this request to refrain from touching Christ.
And one of the reasons it is difficult, is that looming in the background shortly after Mary’s encounter is John 20:27, Jesus provides for Thomas a bold allowance when He states, “put your finger here and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side”. Why does there seem to be a double standard? I find it helpful to consider the Westminster Shorter Catechism at this moment. The first question it asks us is what is the chief end of man? We answer that question with the following, Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
Mary in that moment is not struggling with doubt. Mary in her moment is ready to continue enjoying Christ, and yet her enjoyment of Him was getting in the way of her glorifying Christ’s resurrection to the disciples. Jesus commissions her in John to go to the brothers and declare the ascension of Christ that was to come. While Martha, for instance, is often associated with being too busy for her own good, Mary Magdalene, needed to be a little bit more like Martha in that moment. The resurrection event has given us the joyful assurance that the labors we are called to in this life are not in vain – so lets get to the labor of glorifying Him.
However in contrast, Thomas in his disbelief was not up to the task of glorifying God 10 verses later in John. His suspicion and disbelief was a barrier in his commission to herald Christ’s Glory, and so God in His mercy removes barriers in Thomas’s unbelief, and in love encourages Thomas to “put your finger here and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side”. The moniker of doubting Thomas exists to this day as a byproduct of his request. But what we can often miss is that Jesus is showing us that he is up to the task of sanctifying our doubts. The sanctification Thomas receives is shown in that fact that he is the first apostle after the resurrection that states clearly who Christ is, that “He is our Lord and our God” (John 20:28). The touch of Christ uniquely blessed Thomas in that moment with the ability to clearly ascribe Glory unto Christ.
There is one more thing in the aftermath of the resurrection I’d like to take the time to appreciate: ‘Doubting’ Thomas was not the last of the remaining 11 to doubt Christ in the gospels. To do this, first I must quickly establish the timeline of events after the resurrection. We learn in John 20:19 the very day of Christ’s resurrection that Christ appeared before 10 of the disciples in Jerusalem. All but Thomas were there. They all got to touch him. They all got to stand with him, and in verse 22 we see Christ breathed on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Then eight days after the resurrection (v26) Jesus appeared before them once more in the same room within the vicinity of Jerusalem, this time with Thomas, and after these events, comes what we’re now going to look to in Matthew 28:16-17.
In Mtthew 28:16-17, no longer do the disciples find themselves in Jerusalem, they have traveled back to the area of Galilee, and in Galilee, one verse before Jesus begins to state what has since been known as The Great Commission, we read the following, “And when they saw him (the disciples) they worshiped him, but some doubted.” (Matthew 28:17) I wonder how many times we have read this section of scripture and looking at the great commission just completely miss the fact that there is a significant revelation in the verses immediately preceding it. They all had by now received Christ. They all by now had gotten to touch His body. They all by now had received a tangible and visceral revelation to the envy of all believers since, and yet there are still some doubts.
Which tells us what? Doubts will happen in this walk through the already but not yet. When doubts happen, come boldly to the throne of grace. Be touched and renewed by His Word and Spirit, and do not forsake the gathering together He has prescribed for us. Our Lord is up to the task of sanctifying our doubts through the means of prayer, word, and sacrament. Let us lay hold of Him when struggling to offer Him honor. But also let us see when vital work in His great commission is before us, and when our focus would be better served in making haste to proclaim that Christ has risen! The Lord erases our doubts in order to purify our perseverance and proclamation of His Glory. So when we find ourselves doubting come without shame to the throne of Grace. His grace is sufficient for us and perfected in our weakness. God’s tender mercy, especially in doubt, is a truth well worth heralding throughout our communities, this city, and to the world!